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Two long-time Western Conference pillars have fallen

The Clippers and Grizzlies have succumbed to injuries and disarray, likely ending their playoff hopes.

Memphis Grizzlies v Los Angeles Clippers Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Clippers and Grizzlies were perennial threats to the Warriors beforethey were championship contenders. The Clippers used to go back and forth with Golden State, even beating them in a playoff series in 2014. The Grizzlies were too gritty for the Warriors for many years, and had them on their heels during the 2015 playoffs.

With Draymond Green’s meteoric rise in 2015, the Warriors finally had the athleticism and toughness to handle the humongous frontcourts of these two teams. Becoming better than Clippers and Grizzlies in many ways defined the Dubs’ ascendancy to the NBA’s elite.

Neither the Clippers or Grizzlies were ever serious championship contenders during their runs. But the Lob City and Grit ‘n’ Grind eras were remarkable still, and it’s sad to see them go.

The Clippers couldn’t survive post-Chris Paul

After Chris Paul moved on to Houston this offseason, Doc Rivers decided to try to stay competitive. The Clippers ended up with an interesting but fragile roster that featured Blake Griffin as its major playmaker.

Los Angeles began the season excellently, but injuries to Milos Teodosic, Patrick Beverley, and recently Blake Griffin have tanked their season. It looks like DeAndre Jordan may be on the move, and this team will have to rebuild almost from scratch.

The Lob City Clippers were the height of Chris Paul’s dominance, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest point guards of all time. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan showed us just how large and athletic a frontcourt could be. Even though Warriors fans rightfully thought that the Clippers were one of the whiniest teams of all time, their cultural impact was no joke.

The Clippers showed moments of brilliance marred by inconsistency and injury. Ultimately, once the Warriors surpassed them, their opportunities at breaking through to the next level were all but spent.

The Grizzlies are old and capped out

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are on the wrong side of thirty, and Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are gone. The Grizzlies are relying on a broken Chandler Parsons, who is on a max contract, and a rejuvenated Tyreke Evans to keep themselves afloat. The rest of their roster is composed of young prospects, misfits, and journeymen.

It’s not surprise they’re struggling so far. But it is a shock that they fired their head coach David Fizdale so early into his tenure. He was well-liked by his players (except Marc Gasol, apparently), and had achieved fine results with the talent he had. It seems like he was the fall guy for regression due to aging and bad injury luck.

The Grizzlies never had a star like Chris Paul, never played in the bright lights of Los Angeles, and never showed the sky-high potential of a true contender. But they always overachieved, were a feared opponent for any top team, and ground incompetent teams into dust.

But in today’s NBA, that kind of slow, gritty style doesn’t succeed as often. Their era is past.

These two teams were gatekeepers for so many years: if you could compete with them, you were a playoff team, and if you could handily beat them, you were a title contender. Even though I’m glad the Warriors don’t have to deal with either team anymore, I’m still a little sad they’re gone.

And yes, it might not be too long before we add the Oklahoma City Thunder to this list.

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